Mayor Michael Bloomberg says the city’s record homeless population is being driven in part by homeless families from other parts of the country. But critics say that’s just an attempt to deflect attention from the mayor’s own failed policies. NY1's Bobby Cuza filed the following report.
Mayor Bloomberg said the city’s homeless shelters system is much improved. So much so, he said, it’s become a magnet for out-of-towners.
“If you live elsewhere in the country, you fly to New York and you go directly from the airport to the shelter system and we have no choice,” he said.
No choice because New York, unlike other big cities, must provide shelter by law. From 2008 to 2011, the number of out-of-towners applying to homeless shelters increased by almost half.
Bloomberg said he supports the right to shelter but suggested the policy may be too open.
“The State Constitution has been interpreted by a judge that says everybody has a right to shelter if you’re here," he said. "You don’t have to be a citizen of New York. You don’t have to have been here for any particular length of time.”
Homeless advocate Patrick Markee said the idea of outsiders flooding the system is absurd.
“It’s a pattern we’ve seen from the mayor and from administration officials of not wanting to talk about the real problem,” he said.
The overwhelming majority of homeless are New Yorkers and Markee pointed out that the number of out-of-towners was actually down last year compared to 2010.
“The real problem is we have record and rising homelessness in New York City," Markee said. "The real problem is we have high rents and low wages. And the real problem is that the mayor’s policies are not working.”
While the city may take in some homeless out-of-towners, it also sometimes sends them back. As a policy, the city will buy a homeless person a one-way ticket out of town if they’ve got a place to stay and a means of support. That costs about $200 per family on average. Housing them in a shelter costs $3,000 a month.
It’s a policy on which Bloomberg and his critics actually agree.
“Why should we be paying $3,000 a month to shelter a homeless family when, if that family has a home and a job in another state, we could just get them a bus ticket and send them there?” Markee said.